Case Study: fast to slow to fast

In January of 2017, I ran my slowest 40yd dash in 10 years. Parenthood, tacos, beer, and other excuses had officially wrecked whatever remained of the athlete in me.

I was never the fastest guy, but I kept up. I remember my middle school track coach introducing us to the hurdles. He said, “It will take a few months to figure out the rhythm. Only the fast guys will get the three-step between sticks, so don’t worry if you have to take four steps.” Coach K had set up five low hurdles at standard distance for that first day, so we could experience the rhythm of a race. On my second attempt, I three-stepped the entire flight of hurdles.

It didn’t make sense to me in high school why my superior hurdling technique, which is both how rival coaches described it and how I perceived it, was not enough to win more races. It turns out I was competing in a very deep talent pool. Before he knew he would attend Baylor and before it was cool to talk about his NFL prospects, I was getting my butt handed to me on the track by Robert Griffin III. He was a multi-event Junior Olympics contender in the hurdles, the jumps, and the sprints. I was, in my own mind, a slow kid who could not hang. Because I was ignorant of college athletics’ Divisions system, I decided there was no point being a slow kid who loved track. My senior year was to be my last season lacing up spikes.

Then I wrecked my motorcycle on the way to work just before Thanksgiving. I couldn’t walk for five days. It was three weeks before the track season was due to start. That was it. I quit track. So began my long backslide in athletic ability.

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From a football coach, a high point of praise is to be called “a workhorse.” A few other phrases that draw in young men, hungry for attention and to feel appreciated, are “dedicated;” “a go-getter;” “heart of a champion;” and “coachable.” As a teenager, I was desperate to receive praise for my efforts. That praise rarely came in track, since I lost races so often. But in football, I could have all the praise I wanted and more if I showed up to the weight room every day. So I did.

Dunte Hector, #64, defensive captain, final game of the 2007-2008 season

 

Any task at which you display even minor aptitude but for which you receive heavy praise will stick with you. So I carried my weight room roots to college with me. In New Mexico, lifting and rugby were a perfect match. When the rugby season ended, though, I had a wide-open schedule while living in the wide-open desert. I was bored out of my mind. So I started running. Slowly. Over very long distances. It wasn’t enjoyable, but the incessant, plodding rhythm of jogging curbed my extra energy. I had enough going on, like ignoring my homework, dreaming of a careers away from desks, driving six hours to visit my then-girlfriend every other week, and planning to transfer schools. Jogging left plenty of time for thinking about those things.

After transferring to Texas Tech, I played with CrossFit every day because my new Lubbock friends liked it. Before we loaded up the bars, though, I would run. There was a one-mile cinder track surrounding our student rec center. If you are competitive and you run a mile on the same course every day, you start to wonder: how fast could I be? It is ironic that I gave up being actually fast to attempt being a 180 pound mile runner…

Eventually, my mile time reached 4:55. It was landmark to me to run under five minutes. Since I did not know very many others who could, I decided I must be pretty good at endurance sports. One of my bosses was a cyclist and she sponsored the college triathlon team. She suggested I try my hand there. So I started riding bikes at moderate speeds for long hours and learned to swim. CrossFit, jogging, cycling, and swimming. (In hindsight, I can see the speed rushing out of my body like a river during these years.) I won a few 5Ks and 10Ks and placed in a few multi-sport races, since most of my competitors were untrained college kids and out-of-shape parents returning to sports. (If only I could have seen the future!) Our triathlon season was drawing to a close and several of my new friends were headed into cycling. I decided to take a spin.

Dunte Hector, Cat 4/Class C collegiate bike racer in 2010-2011 race season

 

For lack of something better to do, I was officially all-in with endurance sports.

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In the five years after college, I drifted. Lifting ramped up again. As my bodyweight climbed from triathlete-svelte at 175lb to looks-like-you-lift-bro at 195lb, my lifts went up and I was happy. Competitors said I had potential, being so new to the strength sports. They didn’t know about the seven years of lifting before endurance sports. I was having fun, but felt like an impostor.

Austin Fit Magazine hosts an annual competition that involves power, speed, agility, and a final mile run, called the FITTEST. In 2013, my first year competing, I ran a 5.25 electronically-timed 40 yard dash and a 5:25 mile. The symmetry of those numbers was devastating. My best hand-timed 40 in football had been around 4.7 and my best-ever mile in Lubbock had been 4:55. Somehow, I had landed in athletic purgatory. I was slower at short distances and slower at long distances and had no idea what to do about it.

Dunte Hector running a slow 40 yard dash in 2013. Killer headband & sunglasses combo, though.

 

Also in 2013 was my first all-comers track meet. I was afraid to get smoked in the 100 meter dash… so I signed up for the 200 meter dash. I ran 28 seconds. Maybe you don’t know track & field: 28 seconds over 200 meters basically meant I was as fast as a good 10 year old boy or a slow 15 year old girl. I had fun, but I was slow. Something had to change.

For about a year, I made progress in my sprints. My 200 came down to 24.6 — a pretty good 17 year old girl’s time — and I entered other events. My zeal for training overrode my sense of moderation, however. I injured both Achilles tendons in that year of training, as detailed here. For two years, I practiced sporadically. Somewhere in there, I became a work-from-home dad and rediscovered donuts. My weight crossed 200lb for the first time in my life and not in a good way. Speed was in steady decline.

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I have coached other people to run faster since 2015. Every single athlete with whom I worked on sprint technique and the principles of running faster got faster. I talked about controlled diet, the need for extra sleep, and the importance of consistency in training. I talked about quality running, timing every rep or competing at every practice, and about exploding in everything they do. I cooked up many delicious meals of speed training for my athletes.

Dunte Hector evaluating several of his own athletes at True Athlete Games in 2016

At the same time, my eating was sloppy, my sleep was sloppier, and my training schedule was non-existent. One day in January, I was timing 10-meter flying runs with our Austin ultimate training group and an athlete asked, “Dunte, what do you run in this?” I knew the answer. I had run a 10-meter fly just the day before. But I was ashamed of how far I had fallen. I replied, with an exaggerated laugh, “I haven’t been too consistent with my running, so I’m not sure.” It was a lie. I am not a person who lies. My 10-meter fly had been 1.26 seconds and the 40 yard dash it was part of had been 5.48 seconds. Something–everything–needed to change.

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All those delicious meals of speed training I had served up to athletes in the previous two years? It was time to eat my own cooking. Beginning in mid-February, Monday I went to a field near my daughter’s school each morning, warmed up, and ran five 40 yard sprints in my cleats. Then I would do two lifts at my home gym, often a deadlift or an Olympic lift and a squat or a single-leg lift. Thursday, I packed up my younger children and went to the track. Three 40 yard sprints in flat shoes and two 40 yard sprints in spikes. Then I would do two lifts at my home gym: a deadlift or an O lift, a squat or a single-leg lift. On the other days, I practiced technique drills for 20 minutes. I kept up this routine until we moved houses and I sold most of my home gym equipment. That was the first week of June. My electronically timed 40 yard dash had fallen from 5.40 seconds to 5.07 seconds.

For two weeks in June, I floundered in training. But our young children no longer slept in our room, so I was sleeping better and more each night. The move had been expensive, so to save money I was cooking every meal. My weight was (and is) coming down again.

Yesterday, finally settled into the rhythm of our new house, I went to the track for a test session before resuming my training. I treat test sessions like track meets — long warmup, music in my headphones, all practice reps from the official starting line. I set up my timing system, got loose, amped myself up, and played a recording of a starting gun. My focus was on proper sprint rhythm and being smooth over 40 yards.

I ran four reps yesterday. Every one of them felt relaxed and easy, if not a little slow. I would have been content with four runs under 5.20 seconds.

I ran 4.99.

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It is a landmark to me to run under 5 seconds in the 40 yard dash from a three-point stance with fully automated timing. I know a few people who can and they are pretty fast. Former professional-athlete fast. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I must be pretty good at running after all. The athlete in me is nearly back. That is the fastest I have been under those conditions in 10 years.

Athletes I coach who had never learned sprint technique or how to train have made huge improvements in speed with two years of training. I have recovered much of my form after just four months of training. We train using exactly the same principles. So I might be pretty good at coaching speed, too.

For all of you ultimate players on a quest for speed, I have something for you. Mark your calendars for August 1 and follow my website for more information. For now, know that you don’t have to stay in athletic purgatory. You can become faster.

But instead of simply following a training program I hand you or blindly trusting the promises I make you, walk with me down the path to speed.

There are fast times to be run and I want a piece of the action, too.

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